Tandoori chicken is a chicken dish which originated in the Punjab region of India, where it continues to be quite popular. The distinctive red hue of tandoori chicken has made it a popular offering at Indian restaurants all over the world, and this dish can also be prepared at home. Home cooks may want to be aware, however, that traditional tandoori chicken requires a special brick oven called a tandoor, and this dish may not taste quite the same at home as it does at a restaurant, unless one happens to have a tandoor lying around the house.
This dish is made by marinating chicken in a mixture of yogurt and spices, with a high amount of cayenne or chili powder, which turns the marinade a rich red color. Some cooks accentuate this by adding red food coloring, or they may make a more orange-colored tandoori chicken with the assistance of turmeric. Garlic, cumin, coriander, ginger, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, lemon juice, and salt are also typically included in the marinade.
Typically, whole chickens are prepared, with most cooks slicing the meat strategically to ensure that the marinade penetrates all the way. It is also possible to use chicken parts, in which case parts of roughly equal size should be chosen so that the dish cooks as evenly as possible. Ideally, the chicken should be allowed to marinate overnight, under refrigeration.
Once the marinade has penetrated, the chicken is skewered and lowered into a preheated tandoor. Tandoors are closed brick ovens which can attain very high temperatures very quickly. The high heat cooks the meat rapidly and causes the chicken to develop a distinctive seared flavor. Some cooks prefer to grill, sometimes covering the grill to hint at the condition in a tandoor, and tandoori chicken can also be prepared in a regular oven at high heat.
This signature dish of Punjabi cuisine is classically loosely chopped and then served over rice. Diners typically have to eat with their hands to pull all of the scraps of meat off the bone, so tandoori chicken can be a messy endeavor. It can also be garnished with raita, an Indian seasoned yogurt condiment, along with things like shredded cucumber or chutney. Tandoori chicken also makes a rather interesting chicken salad component, for those who enjoy things like curried chicken salad.